World War I From Honest Sid
by Ronald Probstein – World War 1
America entered World War I in April 1917 and at the end of the racing season in October Honest Sid decided the season had been so poor because of men going to war and the absence of horses from Europe that he might as well enlist in the Army. After receiving a modicum of training in Long Island he went to New York City on his first leave, which he decided to extend by a few days and immediately on returning to camp was court-martialed, sentenced to hard labor for one month, and clapped in the guardhouse for being AWOL. He was released a few days early because his unit, the Rainbow Division, was one of the first American divisions to be sent to France to fight.
When I asked him about the fighting (pp. 31, 32); “He would always side-step my entreaties. He described his first exposure to combat at Baccarat by saying, “It was pretty quiet when we got to the front. We spent more time sittin’ in the dugouts playin’ cards or ‘readin’ our shirts, which was pickin’ the cooties out of our clothes, than we did fightin’. He never mentioned in this little “quiet war” the occasional massive gas attacks, when mortar shells filled with phosgene, arsenic or mustard gas rained down on the men, killing, blinding, or burning hundreds in minutes, nor did he discuss the artillery barrages which blew men and munitions into the stench-filled air. And he never talked about the infantry raids that left pieces of bodies hanging from the miles of barbed wire stretched across the trenches on both sides.”
He was in the largest trench battle of the War at Champagne but all I could get him to tell me about were the artillery barrages (p. 33): ”When we started firing it was like the Fourth of July. What a sight.” I thought I was watching a show, until all of a sudden the Krauts let loose with a shower that made our act look like the opener. I slid into the nearest hole like it was second base and didn’t see much after that because I kept my head down. It wasn’t so great, kid, since I crapped in my pants.”
“At Champagne, my father sustained a minor wound in his rear end –which, as he told me with the wryest of smiles, “Happened when I got confused on the direction of the German trenches and ran the other way.”
If you’re going to live outside the law, you’d better be honest. This seeming paradox was the operating principle of Sid Probstein’s life. Guileless and endlessly optimistic, he was known as Honest Sid around his stomping ground of New York’s Broadway. Sid wasn’t a tough guy, or even a bad guy. He just never had the patience for the “straight” life, grinding out a living at some monotonous desk job.
He was the quintessential American dreamer, always sure that the good life was just one big score away, a man who never stopped believing in his own good luck, even when the evidence said otherwise. He had all the tools, he was charming, good-looking, quick-witted and decent, but he had an obsession he couldn’t escape.
Honest Sid is the story of an American archetype as seen through the eyes of his son, Ronald, who loved him, and who almost lost him. It follows Sid’s adventures in the world of bookies and bettors, fighters and fixers, players and suckers set against the often-romanticized backdrop of Depression-era New York. It is also the passionate tale of the great and tempestuous love between Sid and his wife Sally, and of his son Ronald whom he idolized.
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Genre – Biographies & Memoirs
Rating – PG13